Lawyers: MSU to pay $15M to families of 3 students killed in campus attack
- MSU will pay $5 million each to the families of three students killed in a mass shooting on campus in February
- The families had submitted legal documents signaling they may sue the university, citing apparent security lapses
- A gunman shot and killed three students and critically injured five more during the shooting
Michigan State University has agreed to pay a combined $15 million to the families of three students killed last February in a mass shooting on campus.
According to lawyers for the families, each family will receive $5 million from the university. In the months after the deadly shootings, in which five other MSU students were critically injured, the lawyers had raised concerns about campus security and indicated that legal action may follow.
Friday morning, university Trustee Dan Kelly revealed at a virtual meeting of the Board of Trustees that the families of the slain students had settled.
He did not provide details on the settlements.
University spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant said she could not share the settlement amounts due to “confidentiality agreements in the settlement” and asked Bridge Michigan to file a state freedom of information act request to get copies of the settlement documents. She said there are three separate settlements.
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On the evening of Feb. 13, Alexandria Verner, 20, of Clawson, and Arielle Diamond Anderson, 19, of Harper Woods, were killed by a gunman in their Berkey Hall classroom, leading to the first 911 calls. Five other students in the classroom were critically injured.
The shooter then exited the building and headed in the direction of the student union building. He entered through an unlocked door and shot and killed a third student, Brian Fraser, 20, of Grosse Pointe Park.
Attorneys representing the families of the three students filed papers signaling their intent to sue the university.
Four out of the five critically injured students also submitted legal papers suggesting they may sue the university. The filings pressed the argument that MSU was negligent in failing to adequately safeguard the campus from a potential shooting and by its actions, or inactions, as the attack unfolded.
David Femminineo, the lawyer who represents Verner’s family, told Bridge the family’s settlement was $5 million.
“The Verner Family did not seek to blame MSU for the death of their daughter,” Femminineo said in a statement. “Instead, the Verner family has sought answers as to how this could be prevented in the future.”
The statement said the funds will help preserve Verner’s legacy.
“We never sought for them to admit liability at all,” Femminineo told Bridge.
“Alex Verner’s priceless. She’s priceless. To put a price tag on her life or anyone’s life is an impossible task. It will never bring her back so we can never be satisfied.”
But attorney Ven Johnson, representing the Fraser and Anderson families, put it differently.
“We certainly believe that it shows that Michigan State was concerned with legal exposure but also that these families have suffered so terribly,” Johnson said. “And I think that the size of the settlements reflects all of that.”
He said his clients will continue to push for public institutions to consider the possibility of mass shootings in the way public buildings are secured. On the evening of the gunfire, assailant Anthony McRae of Lansing was able to enter the classroom building and union without a university ID.
In the aftermath of the tragedies, the university expanded the hours in which students and staff would have to use a university identification to swipe their way into campus buildings. The university has also added locks so that classroom doors can be locked from the inside and is in the process of centralizing its security camera operations system.
“Obviously, $5 million to many folks, of course, is a lot of money, but from the other end when you lose a child it’s nothing,” Johnson said.
Verner’s parents, Ted and Nancy Verner, said at a press conference Friday, where Ted said he wants to work on reforming gun laws.
“Holding people accountable that commit a crime in Michigan with a gun is what needs to be done,” he said.
He said he and Alexandria’s mother, Nancy, sit on several committees including one that is working to figure out how to use Berkey Hall. The university has said it plans to reopen the hall for the spring semester.
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